Finding Ancient Egyptian Curiosities in Niagara Falls

Located on the US-Canada border about a 1.5 hour drive from Toronto, Niagara Falls has become a well-visited tourist destination for anyone coming to Canada`s largest city. Last week, Hannah and I decided on a whim to spend a night in the city with its majestic falls. For Egyptologists, of course, Niagara holds special significance as the mummy of Ramesses I used to call the city home for over 100 years (1). He ‘lived’ in the Niagara Falls Museum until late 1999, when the Egyptian collection of the museum was purchased to become part of the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. The mummy would eventually be returned to Egypt to great pomp and circumstance. Niagara lost perhaps its most famous resident…

Looking at the Interior at the museum from the late 19th century (Niagara Falls Museum)
Looking at the Interior at the museum from the late 19th century (Niagara Falls Museum)

Going for Gold: Casinos and Egyptomania

We arrived in the late evening and witnessed a huge cover of fog enveloping the city and the falls. We had a reservation at the Keg Steakhouse, which was located on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites hotel with a splendid view of the Falls. Of course, we could not see the Falls at all, but we weren’t going to let the misty aura cloud our weekend. As part of our hotel package, we received a $25 voucher for slot machines within the two Niagara casinos. So, after dinner, full to the brim, we waddled down to the Fallsview Casino, where we were going to test our luck. Within the grand casino with its extravagant architecture, my eyes caught sight of many slot machines with an Egyptomania flavour. We could try our attempt to fly after Horus or be seduced by the gold and glitter of Cleopatra. After much debate and uncertainty, we settled on following the Rise of Ra – hoping to strike gold with the sun-god’s favour. I am happy to report we came out with winning $0.60 and, relieved, we turned in for the evening.

Chasing the riches of Pharaoh
Chasing the riches of Pharaoh

The Quirks and Oddities in the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not Museum

The next morning, we strolled through the main, touristic part of Niagara Falls along Clifton Hill. Right near the Niagara Eye, there is the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not Museum, which we wanted to explore. We had been to Niagara a few times already, but never made it inside. Little did I know, what I would find inside. Mr. Ripley, of course, was a well-known collector of antiques, eccentrics, and all forms of quirks. Entering the museum, one of the first installations was a reconstructed figure of the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow. Rendered life-size, he was sitting in a chair.

Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man
Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man

The figure, though, was animated as, holding a cane, he would suddenly rise from his chair, getting up, so that you could appreciate his true height! Ramesses II surely would have loved to be this tall! In another room, they had a giant skeleton of a Monolophosaurus in its might, while in another they had a picture of Nicki Minaj, which the artist produced using many pieces of toast with different shades of toastyness!

Nicki Minaj rendered in toast
Nicki Minaj rendered in toast

Curiosities from the Land of the Pharaohs

In the midst of the collection, however, was a room dedicated to Unbelievable Robert Ridley oddities. On top of wooden boxes with labels of WHAT`S INSIDE? or CAUTION were displayed of objects immediately familiar to me: a mummified cat and falcon, the mummified head of a deceased Egyptian, a reproduction of a scribal palette, a shabti, and replicas of jewellery.

A small collection of ancient Egyptian curiosities on display at the Ripley's Museum
A small collection of ancient Egyptian curiosities on display at the Ripley’s Museum

The mummified falcon is delicabtely wrapped and the head seems to have been rendered true-to-life. The falcon after all was often associated with Horus and this proud animal here was preserved successfully for posterity. Along its head, you can make out intricate workmanship as the wrappings vary in colour. The scribal palette, in contrast, seems to be a modern reproduction as are the two necklaces. The shabti next to the palette is dressed in the typical funerary garment with a brief inscription (though the lettering indicates it is most likely a modern reproduction). Unfortunately, there was not much more information on these objects beyond the brief descriptions of the signs. Just passed this room, I came across an interactive computer, which allows the visitor to have their name spelled in hieroglyphs.

My name in Hieroglyphs according to this machine
My name in Hieroglyphs according to this machine

Unfortunately, an Egyptologist seems to not have been consulted for this tool as these signs do not spell my name at all. Nevertheless, it made for some smiles!

It always surprises me, in what places we come across Egyptian objects or Egyptomania. Of course, within the Ripley’s collection of oddities, ancient Egypt had to be present, right? After all, pharaonic culture has touched many, many aspects over the centuries…


Notes

  1. For a succinct overview of the collection, see the article “Names matter: the unfinished history of the Niagara Falls mummies” by Gayle Gibson, published in KMT 11(4) (2000-2001):18-29. Then curator of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Peter Lacovara along with Sue D’Auria and Thérèse O’Gorman celebrated the arrival of the collection in Atlanta in a brief article “New Life for the Dead” published in Archaeology 54(5) (2001):22-27.
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